Mulberry Street NYC c1900 LOC 3g04637u edit

Mulberry Street NYC, c. 1900. Image courtesy of the United States Library of Congress via Wikimedia Commons.

It’s been a year,
Yet your presence lingers
in strangers who cross

the road towards me.

In a quest to educate myself and use my time more constructively I’ve scheduled reading before bedtime. In addition to poet and writer Salena Godden’s memoir, Springfield Road, and Daniel Kahneman’s Thinking Fast and Slow, I’ve been reading two or three Chinese poems (in translation).

In the windfall month when I bought Bukowski’s Pleasures of the Damned, I also picked up an anthology of Classical Chinese Poetry translated by renowned scholar David Hinton. It’s taken me nearly a year and a half to delve into my indulgence.

One of the great amusements of some of these poems is the scene-setting provided by the titles. Consider for example:

“On the Summit above Tranquil-Joy Temple” (p. 409)
“On a Boat Crossing Hsieh Lake” (p. 414)
“Written on a Wall at Halfway-Mountain Monastery” (p. 355)
“At Truth-Expanse Monastery, In the Dharma-Master’s West Library” (p. 224)
“Staying Overnigh in Hsü’s Library. Hsieh Shih-Hou and I are Driven Crazy by Rats” (p. 341)

The titles are not all about libraries and monasteries –

“8th Month, 9th Sun: Getting Up in the Morning, I Go Out to the Latrine and Find Crows Feeding on the Maggots There” (p. 340)

I derive great pleasure from imagining the suggested location and atmosphere for the unfolding poem. It’s like reading directions in a script or screenplay. I’ve used a similar device before in my poems (see “118A Creighton Avenue” and “St Paul’s, Covent Garden“), but it’s a comfort to know the greats did it, too. Today’s title unashamedly proposes the verse’s location.

(For interest, my poem “Postmarked from a Café” nods to Bukowski.)

Reference:
David Hinton (editor and translator), 2008, Classical Chinese Poetry: An Anthology, (Farrar, Straus and Giroux: New York).

Twitter: @BeadedQuill
Facebook: BeadedQuill
Books:
In the Ocean: a year of poetry
Emily’s Poems for Modern Boys
Shining in Brightness: Selected Poems, 1999 – 2012

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